Fire extinguisher in white outdoor cabinet

Easy identification, environmental protection, and code compliance are just a few perks of an inexpensive extinguisher accessory

Often, it's necessary (or simply safer) to place a fire extinguisher outside. Customers, employees, residents, and first responders rely on quick extinguisher access to save lives. That's true at gas stations, airports, manufacturing facilities, and a wide range of commercial establishments. And in situations where outdoor placement can't be avoided, an outdoor fire extinguisher cabinet can cut costs, promote safe use, and help fire safety systems pass inspections.

To learn more about the benefits of outdoor extinguisher cabinets (and what leading fire codes have to say about them), read on.

Readers can also skip straight to our selection of fire extinguisher cabinets.

Without an outdoor fire extinguisher cabinet, climate and corrosion can ravage a life-saving device

As we explained in our article on the uses and benefits of plastic fire extinguisher cabinets, each cabinet has two jobs: to protect the extinguisher and to make it easy to find.

Mother nature is no friend to fire extinguishers. Prolonged sun exposure tends to fade the extinguisher's inspection and instruction label. That's a surprisingly serious problem: most inspectors would be within their rights to ask that that extinguisher be removed from service. Local fire codes and standards from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) require that labels always remain visible. Annual visual inspections will consider the condition of the extinguisher's operating instructions and the hazardous materials identification system (HMIS) label.

The HMIS label can be protected by an outdoor fire extinguisher cabinet

This section of the label contains critical safety information required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and jurisdictions adopting NFPA standards.

The reason is this: each extinguisher includes instructions and safety guidelines on the body. Those instructions help consumers safely store, dispose of, and—most importantly—use the extinguisher.

However, fading pales in comparison to the damage moisture can cause outdoor fire extinguishers. When moisture builds up, oxidation (rusting) occurs. The results can be downright deadly. Stored pressure can transform an extinguisher's handle into a projectile, or rip the metal cylinder into shrapnel. Rust can lead to leaks that have the insidious effect of leaving an extinguisher inoperable in a fire emergency. Moisture can cause powdered chemicals within to glom together, blocking hoses and other sensitive parts that normally deliver fire-quenching agents. By that point, the extinguisher is just a large, red paperweight.

Outdoor fire extinguisher cabinets can limit accidents and intentional misuse

Just as nature can damage your fire extinguisher, so can humans. Accidents, like knocking the extinguisher off its mount to the ground, may occur. It's hard to imagine why somebody would want to steal an extinguisher in the first place. But it does happen, whether they're simply in reach of a burglar or used to deface buildings.

The problem is this: almost always, extinguishers are designed to be accessible to anybody passing nearby. For the most part, access and safety trump anti-theft measures. Encasing your fire extinguisher within a locked cabinet, however, can prevent vandalism, tampering, and misuse, which can lead to some expensive messes (like the incident shown below).

But businesses, workplaces, and buildings of almost every kind need them—so what's the solution? Outdoor fire extinguisher cabinets offer a compromise, shielding these devices behind glass or plastic barriers held in place by a safety lock. Those responsible for the care of extinguishers can unlock the panel and access the extinguisher; would-be thieves and vandals must destroy the barrier.

NFPA guidelines and local codes govern locking mechanisms, labeling, and other cabinet-related concerns

Cabinets may be needed as a matter of code compliance

Cities, states, and other local governments often base many rules for fire extinguishers on NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers. That standard doesn't demand that every extinguisher, indoor or outdoor, be protected by a cabinet. They are, however, an option for remaining in compliance with rules that require proper storage and protection.

For portable extinguishers without wheels, a bracket, hanger, wall recess, or cabinet is required (section 6.1.3.4, 2018 edition). However, where they're "subject to physical damage," NFPA 10 requires protection against that damage—which a bracket or hanger may not be able to provide. Cabinets must also be approved, meaning that they're acceptable to local fire officials and other authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs). And they can't be locked unless the extinguisher is "subject to malicious use" and the cabinet provides for emergency access (section 6.1.3.10.1).

There are no federal regulations requiring outdoor fire extinguishers to remain within a cabinet. Still, some local jurisdictions do require it. It's crucial to understand local fire codes (and the preferences of AHJs) to stay fully code-compliant. In our experience, nearly any extinguisher placed outdoors faces a strong possibility of malicious use. In these cases, an outdoor fire extinguisher cabinet with a lock and key can—and probably should—be used.

Supplement cabinets with signs and decals to promote visibility

Buyers should keep one other code-related question in mind: does the cabinet do enough to help users quickly find (and use) the extinguisher? Rules throughout section 6.1.3.3 of NFPA 10 add that extinguishers must be placed in a visible location, with signs or visual indicators provided when visual obstructions can't be avoided. Most outdoor fire extinguisher cabinets help to address the visibility issue with high-contrast colors and easy-to-read "Fire Extinguisher" decals.

Fire extinguisher decal

Decals like this one are often paired with outdoor fire extinguisher cabinets to promote visibility.

Fully enclosed cabinets are not permitted when very high temperatures are likely

There's one last factor to keep in mind: airflow may be a concern with extinguishers subjected to especially high temperatures. CO2 models, for instance, shouldn't be kept at temperatures over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Where heat is a concern, cabinets must provide "screened openings and drains" in accordance with NFPA 10, section 6.1.3.10.4.

Careful selection can make outdoor fire extinguisher cabinets a cost-saving measure rather than an added expense

Any one of these problems can lead to two undesirable outcomes: recharging or, in some cases, replacing the extinguisher. Depending on the number, sizes, and types required, those costs can range from inconvenient to prohibitively expensive.

One of the least expensive options for those protecting extinguishers outdoors is a synthetic, or plastic, cabinet. They don't rust or have sharp corners, and the paint doesn't chip. They also have a built-in lock, and typically feature bright colors, along with decals, designed to promote compliance with fire codes.

Take, for example, the surface-mounted cabinets offered by CATO, a Florida-based manufacturer of fire safety products. Their frames are injection molded from virgin high-impact crystal polystyrene. The "high-impact" part is exactly what it sounds like: it's designed not to crack or break when, inevitably, someone or something collides with it. This material also inhibits ultraviolet (UV) rays, slowing down sun-bleaching of the label and degradation to the extinguisher's parts.

CATO's cabinets also have a Plaskolite front panel. This acrylic material breaks quickly (and safely) in an emergency, without shattering into a collection of hazardous shards. They also include a ribbed-grip polypropylene hammer—secured with steel mechanical cable—to make sure that users can get through the panel quickly and safely.

Keep costs low with affordable cabinets, replacement parts, and long-lasting extinguishers

Extinguisher sizes vary, with some models standing taller and weighing significantly more than others. If you're looking to find a matching cabinet—or to replace an extinguisher that wasn't well-protected—take a look at QRFS's catalog of fire safety equipment. Our CATO-brand cabinets are available for 5-pound, 10-pound, and 20-pound dry chemical and CO2 extinguishers. Damage to locks, keys, hammers, and the break-glass panel can be quickly undone with our supply of inexpensive replacement parts.

Acrylic glass break panel for outdoor fire extingusiher cabinets

Don't replace the entire cabinet after use—get a replacement break panel instead.

Browse our full selection of extinguishers and accessories, or look at our selection of outdoor fire extinguisher cabinets.

This blog was originally posted at QRFS.com/blog. If this article helped you understand the basics of extinguisher protection, check us out at Facebook.com/QuickResponseFireSupply or on Twitter @QuickResponseFS.